Thailand to close all gold mine operationsPublished by MAC on 2016-05-13
Source: ABC, Bangkok Post, SMH, AFP, Reuters
Previous article on MAC: Chatree gold mine prompts protests in Thailand after poisoning claims
Thailand orders Australian-run Chatree gold mine to close because of community conflict
By South-East Asia correspondent Liam Cochrane
11 May 2016
The Thai Government has ordered an Australian-operated gold mine to shut down by the end of the year, because of conflict in the local community over alleged health impacts.
Some villagers have lobbied the Thai Government, saying the mine has caused elevated levels of arsenic and manganese in people and crops.
Other locals support the mine, which employs almost 1,000 Thai staff.
"Akara has to shut down the mine and rehabilitate the area," a statement from the Ministry of Industry said.
"Even though there is no clear conclusion that the environmental and health impacts came from the Akara gold mine, [we made this decision] for the benefit of society and to solve conflict between people.
"To reduce problems for staff and to prepare for the shutdown of operations, the metallurgical license will be renewed until end of 2016 so that the remaining minerals can be used."
The mine's operators have denied the allegations of heavy metal poisoning and said the announcement came as a "complete surprise".
"Time after time we have proven conclusively that we cause no harm to the health of our community or to its environment," a statement from Akara Resources said.
"We have not received anything about this in writing ... however, when we do we will then seek legal advice as to our position."
Akara is 48-per cent owned by Australian company Kingsgate Consolidated.
The Chatree gold mine is located 280 kilometres north of Bangkok, in Pichit province, and is Thailand's biggest mining operation.
Separate blood testing of local populations has been used by the mine-operator and opponents to prove both sides of the argument.
Govt to shut down gold-mining industry
Thailand's gold mining industry is set to go out of business as the cabinet has decided to stop renewing and issuing licences for gold ore exploration and gold mining, following a public outcry over health and environmental issues.
11 May 2016
Thailand's gold mining industry is set to go out of business as the cabinet has decided to stop renewing and issuing licences for gold ore exploration and gold mining following a public outcry over health and environmental issues.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted gold mining will cease by the end of this year. Steps will also be taken to rehabilitate mining areas and help workers set to lose their jobs.
Industry Minister Atchaka Sibunruang said the cabinet had acknowledged a joint decision by four ministries – the Industry, Public Health, Natural Resources and Environment and Science and Technology ministries – to stop issuing and renewing the licences.
The decision is aimed at addressing local residents' complaints regarding the health and environmental impacts of gold mining operated by Akara Resources Plc – a subsidiary of Australia-based Kingsgate.
The company operates a gold mine straddling Phichit, Phitsanulok and Phetchabun provinces, Ms Atchaka said.
The move means all previously submitted applications for exploration and mining licences as well as applications to renew licences will be rejected, she said.
However, Ms Atchaka said the cabinet has agreed to renew Akara's smelting licence which is due to expire on Friday. The smelting licence will be extended until the end of this year in order to give the company and its workers some time before the closure of its mining operation.
The company will be allowed to produce gold from leftover ore under the renewed smelting licence, she said.
Ms Atchaka said the four ministries met on April 29 to consider the initial findings submitted by a working panel set up to look into local residents' complaints about the health and environmental impacts of gold mining.
While it is not clear whether any health problems have been caused by the company's gold mining, the four ministries reached the joint resolution in order to end conflicts over the issue, she said.
Based on the decision, gold mining and exploration nationwide as well as renewal of licences will cease by the end of this year, Ms Atchaka said. The ministries agree gold mining is not suitable for the country at the time, she added.
The minister said health checks of local people living around the gold mine found many of them have high levels of harmful substances in their bloodstreams.
However, she admitted the checks only began in 2014 and 2015, and that there is no scientific evidence about what caused the health problems. But the four ministries agreed that if the gold mining is causing conflicts, it should stop to benefit the public, she said.
Asked whether the company would sue the government for damages, Ms Atchaka said the company has the right to do so.
She also said the cabinet has apportioned various tasks to ministries after Akara closes down its mining operation.
The Industry and the Natural Resources and Environment ministries will oversee the closure and rehabilitation of the mining areas, while the Public Health Ministry will look after local residents' health needs. The Labour Ministry will find ways to help the company's more than 1,000 workers likely to be affected by the closure, Ms Atchaka said.
She added the Phichit governor will also be asked to draw money from the province's 45-million-baht local development fund to help workers.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Akara Resources said the proposed closure of its Chatree gold mine has come as a complete surprise.
The company said it has a mining lease until 2028 and it plans to keep mining until then. "Time after time we have conclusively proven we cause no harm to the health of communities or the environment. And we contribute large amounts to the Thai economy," the statement said.
It also said Akara would seek legal advice on how to proceed with the matter.
Thailand to close all gold mine operations, including Australian Chatree
11 May 2016
Thailand's military regime has ordered the shutdown of the country's gold mining and exploration industry, including the Australian-owned Chatree mine 280 kilometres north of Bangkok.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha cited a public outcry over health and environmental issues for the shock decision.
The Chatree mine operated by Akara Resources and Public Company, a subsidiary of the Australian operator Kingsgate, has been the target of environmental protests over alleged contamination of nearby villagers.
The company strongly denies the claims that forced a 44-day suspension of mining early last year.
Government agency tests revealed that about 100 people living around the mine have high levels of toxic substances in their bodies, but scientific investigations failed to link the levels to the mine.
Kingsgate's chief executive officer Greg Foulis said that, after 15 years creating jobs and making a substantial contribution to the Thai economy, the government's announcement came as a surprise.
He said the decision was at odds with the results of a comprehensive report by independent experts that clearly concluded that the Chatree operations caused no harm to the health of the nearby community or the environment.
"Not only has nobody died, nobody has even been sick or shown any symptoms of anything and yet we still go on with this giant farce," Kingsgate chairman Ross Smyth-Kirk said in April.
The open cut operation is Thailand's largest gold mine and employs almost 1000 workers.
The regime has ordered all mining to cease by the end of the year and mining areas to be rehabilitated. It has also ordered government agencies to stop issuing and renewing gold mining and exploration licences.
Mr Smyth-Kirk last year announced plans for the company to expand its gold mining operations in south-east Asia.
Twelve companies have submitted applications for gold exploration in Thailand, covering 177 land plots in 10 provinces.
The company's lease for Chatree was due to run to 2028.
Mr Foulis said the company had yet to receive any formal communication from the government about its decision.
"In the interim, we are seeking legal advice as to our position and will continue to keep our stakeholders, including our 1000 employees and contractors informed, as and when further information becomes available," he said.
Akara Resources said in a statement that it had repeatedly proven the mine had caused no harm to the environment and the company had followed Thai mining laws and operated under the supervision of the Primary Industries and Mines Department.
The Chatree mine's smelting licence was due to expire on Friday but the regime announced it would be extended until the end of the year to give the company and its workers time to prepare for the shutdown.
Industry Minister Atchaka Sibunruang told reporters that four government ministries had met to consider the findings of a panel that had been set up to look into complaints about the health and environmental impacts of gold mining.
"They are still unable to confirm that the gold mine causes heavy-metal and cyanide contamination in the environment and people's sickness but in the interests of people around the gold mine and resolving the conflict, we made a decision to close the mine by the end of the year," she said.
"The ministries agree that gold mining is not suitable for the country at the moment."
Thanyarat Sinthornthammathat, a leader of an environmental protest group, said she was grateful the government had chosen to stand by Thai people rather than foreign businesses.
Protest groups have been targeting the mine for several years. One protester recently held a sign saying "Get Out Australian Capitalists", while a small girl clutched a handwritten sign showing her alleged levels of arsenic, manganese and cyanide.
Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission announced last year that it was investigating an allegation that Kingsgate bribed Thai state officials to obtain a gold mining concession.
The Sydney-based company strongly denied the claim and said it would co-operate fully with the investigation.
Thai villagers hail gold mine closure in rare environmental win
11 May 2016
Thai villagers on Wednesday celebrated a junta move to shutter a controversial gold mine, a rare blow to big business in a kingdom where environmental concerns are often secondary to profit-making.
The Chatree mine complex straddles three provinces in northern Thailand and has been dogged by a decade of protests from locals who say its has contaminated crops and livestock.
Thailand's military government said Tuesday it would shut down the quarry and stop handing out new gold mining licenses across the entire kingdom to ‘heal rifts’ sparked by the industry.
‘I am so happy as I fought for over 10 years,’ said Tanyarat Sintontammatad, the 39-year-old leader of an anti-mine group in the northeast.
‘But this is not a ultimate victory yet,’ she added. ‘I am still concerned about people's health and environmental damage in the area.’
Thailand's industry minister said an official inquiry could not conclusively link the villagers' health complaints to the mine, but recommended it be shut for the ‘benefit of society’.
The mine is owned by Akara Resources, a Thai subsidy of an Australian firm.
The government says it will oversee its closure by the end of the year and contribute funds to compensate the company's hundreds of workers.
Arom Khamchring, a nurse who became a leading anti-mine activist in Phitsanulok province after locals started falling ill, welcomed the ruling but raised concern that the moratorium could be overturned by a new government.
‘We agree with the decision and view it is a good sign that the Cabinet believes mining has damaged our natural resources,’ she told AFP.
The order marks a rare concession to environmental activists in Thailand, who often lose out to business interests in a country where government deals are frequently greased by corruption.
Thailand's junta, which came to power in a 2014 coup, has come under fire for using special powers to fast-track the construction of power plants and other projects.
Gas drilling across the northeast has also stirred opposition and health complaints in recent years, despite a junta ban on protests.
Thailand to shut only active gold mine by end of May — report
19 May 2016
Thailand's military regime, which ordered the shutdown of the country's gold mining and exploration industry last week, is set to force Australian-owned Chatree mine to close up shop by the end of May, a senior industry ministry official said on Wednesday.
"We need to be cautious and thorough before we submit this, but it will definitely be done soon," the source, who was referring to the official notification, told Reuters.
Australian-owned Chatree mine has been the target of environmental protests over alleged contamination of nearby villagers.Chatree, located 280 kilometres north of Bangkok, is Thailand’s only active gold mine and has been the target of environmental protests over alleged contamination of nearby villagers.
Owner Kingsgate Consolidated, though its local unit Akara Resources, has denied accusations and repeatedly said it would not stop operations until receiving formal notice from the government.
In April last year, authorities ordered a 44-day suspension of activities at Chatree after random urine and blood tests showed above-standard arsenic and manganese levels in people living close to the mine.
But Kingsgate executive chairman, Ross Smyth-Kirk, said at the time that arsenic and manganese had not been used or stored at Chatree at any time in its history, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The open cut operation, which began operations in 2001, is Thailand's largest gold mine and employs almost 1,000 workers.
As per March this year, it had produced over 1.8 million ounces of gold.
Kingsgate CEO says arsenic, manganese never used at Thai mine
Simon Webb and Pairat Temphairojana
20 May 2016
Thailand's only working gold mine has never used the toxic substances found in people living nearby, the chief executive of the mine's Australian owner said on Thursday, expressing shock at a government order to shut down.
The snap decision by the Thai cabinet to close the Chatree mine would hurt foreign investor confidence, said Greg Foulis, Chief Executive of Kingsgate Consolidated.
Thailand's cabinet announced the closure last week, but authorities have yet to explain their reasons to Kingsgate or its local unit Akara Resources, Foulis said.
Farmers and villagers say the mine has poisoned residents, crops and livestock. In January 2015, a government team said that more than 300 people living near the mine tested positive for arsenic and manganese.
Local people and environmentalists have also complained of cyanide contamination from the mine's refuse, or tailing, pond.
"We do not use arsenic or manganese in our operation," Foulis said, speaking to Reuters in the Thai capital. Cyanide levels were low and none had escaped the tailing pond, he said.
"A cigarette or a cup of coffee may contain similar levels of cyanide to what's in our tailing facility."
Arsenic and manganese were naturally occurring and the company had found similar levels in people it tested people 50 km (30 miles) away from the site, Foulis said.
"The government, ourselves, and independent auditors, nobody has found any contamination that is attributable to our operation," he said.
Minority groups may have had an outsized influence on the government decision, he added.
"We accept that there's always going to be minority groups that don't want certain businesses, industries and investments," he said. "However, the government still hasn't found a mechanism to deal with protests or interest groups."
The mine has 1,000 direct employees. On Friday, local media reported thousands of workers and residents living in the area gathered at the local government offices to protest the decision to shut it down. Worker leaders accused NGOs and academics of spreading false information on the mine, the Bangkok Post reported.
Over 15 years, Kingsgate had spent around $1 billion on the mine, Foulis said. It would spend about the same again if it were allowed to operate the concession through to its expiry in 2028.
The mine was a major contributor to the local economy and would pay around $100 million in royalty and taxes over the 12 years to the end of the concession, he said.
The firm has yet to recoup the investment it made to expand the mine five years ago, when it took on an A$80 million ($60 million) credit facility, Foulis said.
Funds invested in Kingsgate may be reluctant in future to risk exposure to Thailand, he said.
"The investment landscape has changed unexpectedly on them," he said. He hoped to better understand the Thai government's decision through meetings on his trip to Thailand.
"In the end, what this comes down to is a broader philosophical question," he said. "The government just decided it doesn't want mining."
(Additional reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Richard Pullin)
Two with Thai army links found guilty of attack on gold mine protest
BY Amy Sawitta Lefevre
31 May 2016
Bangkok - Villagers, who had been attacked by men in 2014, when they and rights workers were blocking a road to a gold mine, attend Loei Provincial Court to hear the verdict, in Loei, Thailand, May 31, 2016. Daily News/via REUTERS
A Thai court on Tuesday found two men guilty of attacking villagers and human rights activists protesting against a gold mine in what an international rights watchdog called an important verdict for people standing up for communities.
About 150 men, many of them masked and armed, attacked villagers and rights workers blocking a road to a gold mine in the northeastern province of Loei on May 15, 2014.
Many of the villagers, who were protesting against the environmental damage they said the mine caused, were rounded up and some were beaten, they said.
The attackers were not identified at the time while police declined to comment.
Investigators were later able to identify two men, a father and son, the former a retired army officer and the latter a serving one, as being among the attackers.
The two, retired Lieutenant General Poramet Pomnak and his son, Lieutenant Colonel Poramin Pomnak, were found guilty of taking part in the attack and causing bodily harm, the court said in a statement.
Poramin was sentenced to just under three years in prison while Poramet was handed a two-year sentence.
Reuters was unable to contact their lawyer or an army spokesman for comment.
Environmental and right activists have long criticized Thailand for a poor environmental record and a culture of impunity for the rich and powerful.
Well-connected figures including military officers, civil servants and business people, often enjoy special privileges in exploiting resources and protection from scrutiny and prosecution for wrongdoing.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomed the verdict as an important step.
"It establishes that human rights defenders and community activists can't be attacked with impunity," Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director at the ICJ, told Reuters.
"The overwhelming trend in Thailand for community rights defenders remains that of impunity for their attackers. We hope this is the beginning of a new trend."
More than 100 villagers showed up at the Loei Provincial Court to hear the verdict.
"The villagers have received justice but the legal process is not complete," said Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, a lawyer for the community rights activists.
"There were more than two attackers in this case but police have not yet proceeded with a case against the rest."
Thailand has been ruled by a junta since the military took power from an elected, civilian government in a May 2014 coup.
Last month, the junta said all gold mining would be abolished by the end of the year over environmental and health concerns.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)
Struggle against mining violations leaves activists exposed
Communities across the country face a troubling pattern of threats, violence and judicial harassment
5 June 2016
Late in the evening of May 15, 2014, more than 100 men, most of them armed and wearing black masks, stormed a small village in Loei province and assaulted more than a dozen men and women who opposed a local copper and gold mine.
After testing in 2007 showed contamination of local water supplies, villagers in six communities surrounding the mine formed a network -- the Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group -- to advocate for the mine's closure and rehabilitation of the local environment. The communities went so far as to barricade the road to the mine in 2014. That's when the armed men arrived, unlawfully detaining scores of villagers and injuring at least a dozen in a fit of violence that lasted six hours.
Despite the villagers' calls for help, no police intervened.
Only two of the assailants were brought up on criminal charges for the attack: a retired Royal Thai Army officer and his son, who is still serving in the army. On Tuesday, the Loei Provincial Court convicted the two military personnel on criminal charges including causing bodily harm, deprivation of liberty, and the unnecessary use of firearms in public. They were sentenced to just under two years and three years' imprisonment, respectively, and ordered to pay nine villagers more than 160,000 baht in compensation. The two men have been released on bail.
The company operating the gold mine, Tungkum Ltd, has vehemently denied wrongdoing and has brought at least 19 criminal and civil complaints against villagers protesting the mine, including most recently a criminal defamation complaint against a 15-year-old girl who narrated a Thai PBS broadcast that touched on the question of the gold mine and the environment.
This has been the pattern of "development" in Thailand, as communities face threats, violence and judicial harassment
Consider the situation in Surat Thani province. In the early afternoon of April 8 this year, an unidentified gunman opened fire on land-rights activist Supoj Kansong as he returned home in his vehicle in Chaiburi district. He sustained serious injuries in the attack and was fortunate to survive.
But other land-rights activists have not been as fortunate.
Mr Supoj is the fifth member of the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand -- a group advocating for the land rights of farmers who are in a dispute with the government and a palm oil company operated by Thai-owned Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co Ltd -- to have been attacked since 2010. Four members were shot and killed. To date, only one man faced trial for one of the four killings. He was acquitted.
More recently, in March, Akara Resources Public Co Ltd, a Thai gold mining subsidiary of the Australian firm Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd, filed complaints of criminal defamation against two human rights defenders who opposed the company's operations in Pichit province and allegedly posted negative comments about the firm on Facebook.
In Tak province, on May 15 last year, authorities ordered members of the Mae Sot Rak Thin Group -- a network of villagers in Mae Sot district -- to vacate their land to make room for the government's plan to develop a Special Economic Zone. Villagers told us that state security forces blocked them from submitting complaints about the eviction to the authorities on multiple occasions.
In all these cases, human rights defenders demanding justice are being sidelined and silenced.
But Thailand has a legal obligation to protect all human rights defenders from retaliation for exercising their rights.
On Dec 17, 2015, Thailand joined 127 other states at the UN General Assembly in adopting a resolution on human rights defenders. The resolution calls upon states to refrain from intimidation or reprisals against human rights defenders and to allow for the peaceful and free expression of dissent. It calls upon businesses to respect the rights of human rights defenders and to identify and address any adverse human rights impacts related to their activities through meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders.
In addition, last month Thailand accepted recommendations from six UN member states related to protecting human rights defenders during its second Universal Periodical Review at the UN. In response, Thailand agreed to promptly and thoroughly investigate reports of intimidation, harassment and attacks against human rights defenders and to hold perpetrators accountable. Thailand's support for these principles on the world stage is heartening, but it means little without concrete action.
Thailand has a long way to go to ensure its international obligations are met and human rights defenders are protected.
As a start, Thailand should guarantee access to effective remedies and reparations for individuals and communities whose rights have been violated. The government should ensure that meaningful legal frameworks are available and effectively implemented to facilitate the free, prior and informed consent of local communities with regard to development projects, and it should ensure companies are held accountable for any environmental damage and human rights abuses.
Sutharee Wannasiri is a Thailand human rights specialist with Fortify Rights. Kingsley Abbott is a senior international legal adviser, Southeast Asia, with the International Commission of Jurists
Thai Industry Minister assures Cabinet resolution to end gold mining still stands
14 June 2016
The Ministry of Industry has corrected rumors being spread online that a Cabinet resolution to end gold mining in the country has been cancelled.
Industry Ministry Spokesperson Somchai Hanhiran has explained the misunderstanding was likely based on a recent amendment to the resolution, which altered some details of the decision, assuring that the order is still in effect.
The resolution was made between the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Industry and cancelled the issuing of licenses for the surveying and mining of gold ore.
The decision also barred an extension of Akra Resources’ permit to mine gold and compels it to shut down its operations.
On a mine stretching across Pichit, Pitsanulok and Petchabun provinces, the spokesperson said its license will last only until December 31 of this year to allow its employees to wind down their work.